The woman, a 67-year-old retired school administrator, was dead inside her red-and-black ’65 Chevy Chevelle, two blocks from her west Los Angeles apartment.
The young homicide detective popped open the trunk and saw Elizabeth McKeown lying on her side. She was naked from the chest down. She’d been beaten, raped and strangled three days earlier.
Despite his efforts and a $25,000 reward, Manchester and his colleagues could not solve the killing. For 33 years and long after he retired, Manchester, now 64, berated himself. He would clip newspaper stories about similar murders in hopes of spotting a clue.
On Thursday, the Los Angeles Police Department announced it had solved McKeown’s case. The suspect, they said, was likely responsible for the murders of as many as 30 women, dating to the mid-1950s, which would make him the most prolific killer in city history.
“I was crying,” Manchester said of his reaction when he learned John Floyd Thomas Jr., 72, had been arrested. “It was remarkable that they caught him.”
Thomas, an insurance claims adjuster, is charged with two killings after cold-case detectives matched his DNA to the McKeown murder and to the 1972 strangling of Ethel Sokoloff, 68, who was sexually assaulted.
The LAPD said it also has partial DNA matches to two other killings, and he is a suspect in three killings in Inglewood. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is looking at him in at least two other cases.
“We believe that Thomas is likely connected to many more sexually motivated murders,” Deputy Chief Charlie Beck said.
Thomas, who was being held on $1 million bond, could not be reached for comment. The public defender’s office said he had yet to be assigned an attorney.
Because the killings occurred before the 1977 reinstatement of the death penalty, prosecutors are seeking life in prison without parole. If Thomas is charged in later cases, they may seek death.
In Los Angeles in the mid-1970s, a man police dubbed “The Westside Rapist” entered the homes of elderly women who lived alone, raped them and choked them until they passed out or died. Beck said police believe Thomas is the rapist and may be involved in scores of unsolved rapes.
The attacks stopped in 1978 — the year Thomas went to prison for the rape of a Pasadena woman.
He may also be involved in killings beyond Los Angeles. A decade later and 40 miles to the east, at least one elderly women in Claremont was found raped and killed. The Los Angeles Times reported Thomas was being investigated for the death of five elderly women in that city, but sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said only one case was being looked at there.
The victims in all 30 cases under review were older white women, mostly of lower incomes and often widows living alone. All were sexually assaulted and most were strangled.
Police said Thomas, who is black, likely targeted the women because of their vulnerability and because they all lived alone. Cold-case detective Richard Bengston said serial killers frequently select victims of a different ethnicity.
Thomas had been twice convicted of sexual assault, and as a registered sex offender, he was required to check in annually with police.
During one visit in October, officers took a saliva swab to collect his DNA, which is a requirement for all sex offenders. Police weren’t sure why he had not given a sample sooner.
Police Chief William Bratton and other officials credited Proposition 69, a voter-approved initiative that requires convicted felons and certain arrestees to submit DNA samples that are stored in a statewide database.
DNA and fingerprinting are the most important tools at a cold-case detective’s disposal, Bengston said. When the killings were first investigated, there was no central computer system to quickly flag possible connections between crimes, and detectives relied on teletypewriter printouts and monthly meetings to exchange information.
Thomas was arrested at his South Los Angeles apartment on March 31, authorities said. Soon after, he resigned from his job with the State Compensation Insurance Fund in Glendale.
Born in Los Angeles, Thomas was 12 when his mother died. He was raised by an aunt and godmother and joined the Air Force in 1956. He was considered sloppy and late and was dishonorably discharged, according to the Times, which first reported the story.
In 1957, he was convicted of burglary and attempted rape in Los Angeles and sentenced to six years in prison. After his release, parole violations sent him back behind bars until 1966.
The allegations about Thomas stunned a friend, Earl Ofari Hutchinson, prominent host of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable and a commentator and author of books on the black experience in America.
“Shocked, shocked, shocked,” said Hutchinson, who had known Thomas since about 1989. “He was very engaging, very involved, seemed very informed.”
He said Thomas is married and has children.
Los Angeles police are still investigating at least a dozen other murders connected to an unidentified serial killer who has been dubbed the “Grim Sleeper.”
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Security officer shoots, kills sword weilding man http://www.privateofficer.com
A security guard at the Church of Scientology’s Celebrity Centre in Hollywood Sunday shot and killed a man wielding two samurai swords, police said.
The evidence is very clear the security officers were defending their safety,” said Deputy Chief Terry S. Hara of the Los Angeles Police Department.Police did not release the name of the guard or the man killed in the 1:30 p.m. shooting.
Det. Wendi Berndt said the man was involved with the church “a long time ago.”"There was a previous relationship, but it is unclear to what degree,” she said.A teenager who saw the man arrive in the parking lot said he stopped the car abruptly in the driveway and climbed out with a 5-foot sword in his hand and an angry expression on his face. Tony Marquez, 17, said the man, who was bald and had tattoos on his arms, walked toward the building, then returned to the car to get the other sword.”I thought it was part of a show,” said Marquez, of Ontario.
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8 arrested after security officer kidnapped, business robbed http://www.privateofficer.com
NTL. ASSOC. PRIVATE OFFICERS
Authorities say that a security officer on duty at a local business was accosted by a group of men and tied up as they robbed the business.
Los Angeles County Sheriffs deputies was able to interrupt the early morning robbery Sunday at the Rancho Dominguez trucking company after the security officer was able to untie and free himself and called 911.
The robbers bound the security guard around 3:50 a.m. and attempted to steal trailers loaded with several million dollars’ worth of electronic equipment, he said.
Eight men were taken into custody by deputies and have been arrested in connection with the robbery at B&R Logistics on Reyes Avenue, just outside the Carson border, said Sgt. Brian Stover.
The security officer was able to provide details and some descriptions of the incident to dispatchers allowing responding units to know the situation better before they arrived on scene Stover said.
Deputies arrived and arrested five suspects at the location, he said. Three others, who managed to make off with electronics-filled trailers, were spotted a few miles away in the stolen rigs and arrested, Stover said.
The security officer received minor injuries in the robbery.
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Security officer nabs fake Dodger player http://www.privateofficer.com
Ronald Higgins, 47, is due back in court Oct. 8 when a date for a preliminary hearing is expected to be set.
He is charged with second-degree commercial burglary, grand theft of personal property and trespass with intent to interfere and is being in lieu of $45,000 bail
Higgins was arrested Wednesday morning after a security officer found him walking on the playing field in a Dodger uniform and holding a baseball glove with two balls — all of which had allegedly been stolen from the premises, said Shiara Davila of the District Attorney’s Office.
He identified himself as a Dodger player, but the security officer recognized him from an earlier incident and was able to detain him while he called the police.
Officers later found Higgins’ clothes in the bat boys’ locker room, Davila said.
If convicted, Higgins faces a maximum three years and 10 months in state prison.
Off Duty LA deputy gunned down in drive-by http://www.privateofficer.com
Law enforcement officials said the motive for the attack remained “wide open” and investigators were trying to track down a white, four-door vehicle that approached Deputy Juan Abel Escalante shortly before gunfire rang out about 5:40 a.m.
A neighbor said she heard at least three gunshots, followed by screeching tires. A minute later, the silence was broken by screams of “My husband! My husband!” said the neighbor, who declined to give her name for fear of gang retaliation.
Escalante’s wife and mother rushed to the deputy, who was not wearing his uniform, the neighbor said.
Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton said it was “too early to know” whether the shooting was gang related or connected to the deputy’s assignment at Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles. Deputies typically work in the county jails as their first assignment.
Escalante, his wife and their three children were living with his parents but were preparing to buy a home in Pomona.
The blue-collar neighborhood of modest single-family homes northeast of downtown had experienced a fragile lull in gang violence in recent years until feuding between rival groups erupted in January.
In February, a shooting outside an elementary school a few blocks from Escalante’s home touched off a fierce gun battle between gang members and police in neighboring Glassell Park. The violence led to a massive gang raid in late June by heavily armed police and federal agents, who stormed an area around Drew Street, about a mile north of where Escalante was slain.
While the number of gang crimes across the city of Los Angeles has fallen this year, the Cypress Park neighborhood and the surrounding northeast section of the city is among the few areas that have seen a significant rise, according to police department crime statistics. The LAPD’s Northeast Division reported 11 homicides from January through June 26, up from six over the same period last year.
Bratton said the slaying was the first in the area since the June gang raid.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca described Escalante, a U.S. Army reservist and 2 1/2-year department veteran, as “dedicated and hard-charging in the best sense of the word. . . . He lived up to the dream of serving his country, serving his county and honoring his family.
“Today is a very difficult day,” Baca said.
Law enforcement sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they did not have permission to talk about the pending investigation, said detectives were pursuing a broad range of possible reasons for the attack. Among them are whether the slaying was a gang-related assassination connected to Escalante’s work at the jail, a random drive-by shooting or the result of someone’s personal grudge.
“The best detectives in our police department are handling this case,” said Deputy Chief Sergio Diaz of the LAPD.
Police cordoned off two blocks of Aragon Avenue between Maceo Street and Thorpe Avenue as officers blanketed the area most of the day.
For hours, detectives knocked on doors and combed the sidewalk and street near the deputy’s home for clues. Several shell casings lay on the street. A hip-high black curtain surrounded Escalante’s body, which was covered in a white sheet, until coroner’s officials removed the body at 11:45 a.m.
Police officials brushed nearly every inch of the deputy’s black GMC sport utility vehicle for fingerprints until it was towed away at 4:05 p.m.
Steve Remige, president of the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, released a statement saying he was confident that Escalante’s killers would be caught.
“Tragic events like these remind us that simply being a law enforcement officer in Los Angeles is an act of bravery,” he said. “Juan will be missed by all of us.”
A local resident, Gloria Ruiz, said that her son and Escalante had grown up together and had both served in the military. She said he had a strict upbringing and his mother “would gleam whenever he had good grades.”
The small working-class neighborhood north of Interstate 5 and west of the 110 Freeway is a community gripped by fear. Several neighbors agreed to talk about Escalante but refused to give their names for fear of gang violence. One resident carrying a baby said the sound of gunfire is so common that she decided not to call police when she heard the shooting.
Another neighbor described the deputy as the eldest son of immigrant parents from the Mexican state of Yucatan. His mother worked at a candy store and his father was a construction laborer, the neighbor said.
The neighbor said Escalante was serious and industrious and worked hard after he returned from military service, studying to join the Sheriff’s Department. He rarely talked about his work after he became a deputy.
“If someone here knew he was a sheriff, it’s kind of like a trophy to kill one of them,” the neighbor said.
Escalante’s death marked the first killing of an L.A. County sheriff’s deputy since Maria Cecilia Rosa was gunned down in March 2006.
Rosa was killed in Long Beach in a botched robbery attempt as she left another deputy’s house for work at the Inmate Reception Center in downtown Los Angeles. In May, the gunman convicted in the shooting was sentenced to death. An accomplice was sentenced to life in prison.
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Jurors deadlock in security guard murder trial http://www.privateofficer.com
Los Angeles CA. May 1 2008
Jurors deadlocked today in the trial of a former security guard accused of murdering an 18-year-old woman in a Palmdale park-and- ride lot as she returned from a Kid Rock video shoot.
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